Christmas is a time when stereotypical gender roles tend manifest themselves the most. At least, they do in my household.
And I’m not alone: women take on most of the Christmas chores and emotional labour. Are all the presents bought? Does the spare bed still need fixing? Are both sides of the family receiving enough attention? Is all the food ordered? Wasn’t Amie’s eldest a vegan? Did my husband’s sister get a necklace last year? Shouldn’t we be using eco-friendly wrapping paper? The list goes on. As Roald Dahl noted, it’s not Father Christmas but Mother Christmas who’s frantically busy in the run-up to the big day. And it can lead to both mental and physical exhaustion.
But do we want it any other way? You might say, ‘yes, obviously,’ but I’m not sure that I actually want my husband to be in charge of buying the presents.
I have long believed that one of a woman’s superpowers is an innate thoughtfulness, clearly illustrated by research carried out for gifting marketplace Holly & Co showing that women have 100 moments a year that they seek to be thoughtful through a card or gift. It’s a way that we show love.
So one of the things I do not want to delegate - because I get the most joy out of it - is thinking about gifting and making my loved ones happy in a way I know only I can.
But something’s got to give. We now live in the era of the ‘triple shift’, where women are often balancing paid work, the majority of unpaid domestic work and also the emotional work within families. In December, this responsibility can feel overwhelming.
So I’m working out what I am prepared to delegate, since we all know that Christmas is about far more than the gift list.
After all the gift wrapping, and planning where and when everyone will be, peeling eight kilos of spuds is not the reward we deserve or need. This year, we have to balance things out.
First, agree with whoever you’re spending this time with: what kind of Christmas do you actually want? The monotony of this period can add to the stress, so you should feel empowered to spice it up. How about having a feast broken up over the day with everyone choosing their favourite dishes? Or a games day culminating in a championship? Karaoke à la turkey, anyone?
Once you have decided what’s happening, look at the tasks (all of them) and divvy up the responsibilities between you all.
Then make sure that everything — the mental and the physical jobs — are under consideration and that you have a fair share of each. It takes a lot more brain power to have completed that gift list you have already nailed than it does to buy some sprouts, for instance.
Now remember, this help will not just happen automatically next Christmas. It takes on average 66 days for a new habit to be formed, and so the likelihood is that, next year, the help you need might well be forgotten. So it is essential that you do not keep silent about the amount you are putting into making this festive season fully festive.
I know that I have fallen into feeling that it is just a ‘duty’, and thus all the hours poured into creating the ‘joy’ go unnoticed and unrecognised, and that is just not okay.
I actually feel that the men in my house - my husband and son - feel awkward about the lack of balance, so their silence comes from a place of shame. Over the years, I have started to build lists of the gifts they can be responsible for, along with the most helpful things they can do during the build-up — getting the tree, detangling the twinkle lights and delivering the gifts to friends, for example. No one knows the help we need unless we ask for it.
So for once, think about you and what you want to get out of Christmas. If it’s creating memories that you’ll look back on with joy, not rushing around feeling miserable, then create that. Make space for you and the elements you love. As Mo Gawdat said on my podcast Conversations of Inspiration, we are all responsible for our own happiness. We live but once. It is not selfish to ensure you are in the best place mentally at this time of year.
I wish you the merriest Christmas and that, this year, we take the time to make the most of it. Because Christmas is a feminist issue, and it’s about time things got evened out.
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